Sunday, February 26, 2017

"Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van

We OPEN on a rainy-night train platform. CUT TO: The erotic pawing of a rifle-butt.

(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the FilmStruck app on Apple TV; built-in screen-capturing is disabled during playback from the Web and from the FilmStruck app on iPhone/iPad.)


In the course of rewatching Seijun Suzuki's 1960 Jûsan-gô taihisen," yori: Sono gosôsha (w)o nerae ["Sidetrack No. Thirteen," or: Take Aim at That Police Van], and planning on doing a series writing about many of his films that have been posted on FilmStruck / The Criterion Channel, the great master died at the age of 93 after having long suffered at the hands of an oxygen tank. I will celebrate the life of this remarkable director, whom I discovered in my early 20s by way of the original Criterion DVD releases of Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill. If I recall I saw his penultimate film and penultimate masterpiece Pistol Opera four times in Seattle theaters on 35mm (1.37:1 original aspect ratio) — one of the greatest films of the 2000s.


Caressing his rifle — a sniper, on the margins of a prisoner-transport-van accident set off by a truck rolled roadward, fires shots into the pile-up, and it's six months suspension for the presiding prison officer on-duty, Tamon (Michitarô Mizushima). As Tamon sees it this will be vacation — to enter the labyrinth of the crimes' solution and, even if subconsciously, expand his agency beyond "prison officer." Trauma luck comes to some. "An armed marksman walking the streets worries me."

(Imagine the frantic trepidation of 1980s America moms dropping their kids and kids' neighbor-friends off for a matinee at the new Suzuki... Imagine '10s mothers...)

The opening sequence glides into incomprehensibility unless you see the film twice in a row: Tamon/Fuyukichi/Gôrô... a sniper in wait... then suddenly a man comes up to pick up a rock near the sniper as though to attack him — but he chucks it at a truck parked on a nearby incline — the sniper readjusts his position as the other man kicks a rock out from under the tire of the truck causing it at the precise second to roll into and block the police van, bang! bang! — Tamon cuts open the tied wrists of the prisoners — Gôrô is reluctant to escape — Fuyukichi's shot and killed — CUT TO: bachelor Tamon's six month suspension and regaling his housekeeper how he's happy to use the time off. But he's already practicing with an unloaded pistol and wonders in inner-monologue V.O. why try to shoot on a prisoner transport? drugs? smuggling?...

Looking at my notes:

Hamaju Agency: Akabori (trying to sell Hamaju to Akiba with Yûko's father, the Hamaju owner indisposed)

Akiba (boss)

Yûko (child of a mother who was a prostitute in Southeast Asia), taken in by Hamajima

Shôko – ex of?

Tsunako (Gôrô's GF, the one sighted on the side of the road in the opening van attack)

Fuyukichi — sniped

Tamon and Yûko are ambushed by Akabori — a struggle, and Tamon wrests away the gun — he demands they be taken to "where the girls are" — Gôtenba — Gôrô's there — Akiba told him to fake his own death — he's there presenting girls for sale — the girls are given sedatives — Akiba arrives — unseen, camera POV and shots of his feet and gloved hand only. Tamon and Yûko are apprehended at or nearby the scene and tied up — this leads to an amazing attempt at execution by means of a gasoline tanker truck.

The police who grab Tamon in the back of the restaurant, they're like thugs themselves, but...

The two men killed in the sniping; Ryûta Komine (who killed a fellow thug) and Fuyukichi (who peddled prostitutes).......

Tamon investigates, Ryûta's sister used to work at the burlesque — Mari Sanjô quit yesterday — but another headshot... that's Tsunako Andô, who quit with Mari and put up bail for somebody... She gives Tamon a lead, she's probably in Atami with Gôrô....

Anyway the plot goes on and on... — Make this movie a priority for your Oscar Sunday.


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